Which neighborhoods should I be considering in the DC area?
April 11, 2013 10:35 AM   Subscribe

I am moving to DC this fall to work in biglaw. The pay is high, but so are my student loans, which I would like to pay off ahead of schedule. Where should I live? Snowflakes within.

This fall, I will be moving to DC with my wonderful fiance and our two cats. I will be working in a large law firm. Fiance and I currently live in a medium-sized southern city, but we lived in an expensive city on the east coast while I was attending law school, so I understand how to go about finding an apartment.

Where I do need help is narrowing down our search. Specifically, I need to know what neighborhoods we should be looking in. My employer will pay for a short trip to DC for Fiance and I to apartment hunt, and I would like to know where to start so that the trip will manageable and useful.

Because IAAL I have put our needs and preferences into outline form:


- I'll be working in biglaw. So the pay is generous (around $150K), but I will be working crazy hours.

- Fiance does not yet have a job lined up, but for the past couple of years, he has been doing administrative work in local hospitals, making around $20-$30K. He will be looking for a similar job when we move. He will likely be going back to school in the next couple of years for something healthcare-related, but he has no concrete plans yet.

- I have TONS of student loan debt from law school. I would like to put as much of my income as possible toward paying it off, or at least paying it down. Getting rid of my debt as soon as possible is a very serious goal for me. Fiance is extremely supportive of this too.


- My office is right next to the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro stop, so proximity to the red, yellow, or green line is preferred. Orange and blue are also possible, though. Given that I'll be working a lot, I'm having trouble figuring out how long of a Metro commute is reasonable for me. (Being close enough to work to be able to walk would be lovely, but I don't think it would be worth the expense. Please correct me if I'm wrong, though!)

- We will be bringing one car with us. Fiance may want to use it to commute to work or (eventually) school, but we obviously don't know where either of those will be. We would love it if we didn't have to move again when he starts school, but his plans are still pretty tentative, and he could end up anywhere from Georgetown to somewhere in Baltimore.

Other preferences:

- Fiance and I are both homebodies who go out occasionally, so being close to great restaurants, shops, bars, etc. is not a priority for us. Especially since I know those things come with a price tag in an expensive city. Being close to some conveniences like grocery stores (especially Trader Joe's!) would be helpful.

- Since I'm going to be working all the damn time, I would prioritize having amenities like a dishwasher and washer/dryer over living in a super fun neighborhood. I do love older buildings and places with character, but I think a modern building is more practical for us right now. (Also, we recently spent multiple years in a fourth-floor walkup, and I would prefer not to do that again.)

- Safety is important, but Fiance and I are not hysterical about it. We currently live in a city with a terrible reputation for crime, and we feel very comfortable here.

- We have two indoor cats and would like to adopt a dog in the near future. We do not have kids.

- We've been sharing 1 bedroom apartments for the past few years, and I think we'd like to upgrade to a 2 bedroom or a 1 bedroom with a study. But it doesn't need to be huge. We don't have that much stuff.

TL;DR: flexible budget but trying to keep it low, need easy Metro commute to Chinatown, prefer 1.5-2BR in modern building with good amenities.

I have previously subletted in a large apartment building in Van Ness. That area is definitely on the shortlist this time around, but I want to make sure I'm not missing out on better options. I have seen this question, but I have a bit more budget flexibility than the OP there.

Where else should we be looking? Any specific buildings you're familiar with that would suit our needs?

What should our budget actually be?

Thank you in advance for your guidance and wisdom! Throwaway email: movingtodc13@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The NoMA neighborhood might be a good fit for you folks. There are tons of apartment buildings that are right on the NoMA-Gallaudet Metro stop, which would put you just two stops away from Chinatown. There's a new Harris Teeter, along with a CVS and an Unleashed by Petco store all on the same block. You'll be looking at $2k and up in rent for a 2-bedroom place, easily. Otherwise, the Penn Quarter and Mt. Vernon Square neighborhoods would also have similar housing stock.
posted by evoque at 10:49 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

Other than the fact that it might not be worth your commute times, Baltimore might have what you are looking for. It has nice places with inexpensive rent and there is a giant hospital here where your fiance might find work. Might be worth a look.
posted by josher71 at 10:53 AM on April 11, 2013

What should our budget actually be?

How much do you want to put towards your loans every month?

Anyway, even putting quite a bit of your salary towards loans every month, you should be able to afford what you're looking for in a wide variety of neighborhoods. I would suggest only looking at places close to a metro stop. As long as you're on the metro and don't have to change trains, your commute will be pretty easy and fast.

Some places to consider, by metro line:


- Cleveland Park, or anything along that Connecticut Ave corridor northwest of Woodley Park. Quiet, safe, great transit, lots of nice buildings.

- Silver Spring, a bit farther out, but you'll get more for your money, parking will probably be easier, and there's quite a bit around there.


- Columbia Heights, lots of new buildings, very easy commute, better parking than many neighborhoods. You might also look around the Georgia/Petworth stop.

- The U St corridor might be a bit more bustling than you want, but again, would be super-convenient.

You might also think about north Capitol Hill/Trinidad, especially around H St NE. I lived there years ago and it was rough, but there's been a lot of investment and it's changing a lot, in the predictably gentrifying ways (coffee shops, yoga studios, restaurants, etc.). Anyway, there's a bus that goes along H St and would take you right to Gallery Place. I worked in Gallery Place when I lived there and my commute was about 10-15 minutes. Or if you live closer to Union Station, you can just take the red line two stops.
posted by lunasol at 11:04 AM on April 11, 2013

A quick skim of craigslist shows me some good-looking places in newer buildings on and around U St NW corridor. Friends of mine live a couple blocks north of U St and just off 13th, and it's changed so much since I lived in DC in the 90s that I'm always amazed when I visit. There's a Green line metro stop right there, and plenty of busses that go N/S on 13th and 14th sts and a bunch that go E/W on U st. On nice days, you could always walk - when I'm visiting my friends and working in our DC office, we often walk (office is at Metro Center).
posted by rtha at 11:08 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]

No way on Baltimore; that is a hellish commute, even with the reverse commute, and you will end up spending the night in the office on the regular because it will take so long. (Seriously, Gallery Place to Baltimore is at least 45 minutes by car without traffic OR via the MARC train out of Union Station, and the MARC doesn't run all the time.)

Van Ness, Logan Square, parts of Columbia Heights, even parts of the Dupont Circle area are going to be good, close places to look that will be more expensive. If you are smart about the other things you pay for (entertainment, clothes, vacations), you can live in those areas and still have enough cash leftover to make extra payments on your student loans. (Speaking as a former BigLaw-er, I know what those payments look like.)

You might also consider parts of Petworth. A lot of people will ding it for crime, etc., though in a lot of ways that's just code for race issues. There is good, safe housing in that area, and it tends to be less expensive than similar housing in the hotter neighborhoods. It will have less of that urban, everything-in-walking-distance feel, though. The commute will be slightly longer, on the Yellow/Green Line.

Finally, consider parts of Capitol Hill. Again, there are crime issues to the east/north of the Capitol Hill area, but there are areas that are safe and affordable. And Capitol Hill has a really vibrant community and lots to do in walking distance. (On preview -- what lunasol said about Trinidad/H Street.)

And on preview re Silver Spring: there are plenty of full-service high-rises in Silver Spring very close to the Silver Spring metro station (like, around the corner). Rents are reasonable -- probably in the $1800-2200 range for a 2 bed/1 bath, depending on the building. It takes about 22 minutes on the Red Line from Silver Spring to Gallery Place, if there are no delays, so that's not too bad, but it's definitely not "close."
posted by devinemissk at 11:12 AM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

Said it before, I'll say it again: Brookland!

-Red Line - 10 min. to Chinatown - 5 min. to most hospitals.
-An actual neighborhood.
-You can get a yard and thus get a dog.
-Super friendly!
-Foot/Bike friendly.
-Green space!

-Sorry you're going to have to rent a house in your budget as opposed to a tiny shoebox apartment that's not really fair to a dog anyway.
-You might actually have to talk to your neighbors, sorry.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:15 AM on April 11, 2013 [2 favorites]

He will likely be going back to school in the next couple of years for something healthcare-related, but he has no concrete plans yet.

It seems to me that this consideration, plus your Chinatown job location, put you into one of the MD communities served by the Red Line, e.g., Silver Spring. That way your commute is manageable and he can establish residency and some day go to the University of Maryland.
posted by carmicha at 11:18 AM on April 11, 2013

I like rtha's suggestion of 13th and U, but wanted to mention that the Gallery Place metro stop is CRAZY close to Metro Center, so I'd definitely keep orange/blue line options in the running unless there are other strong reasons to rule them out.

I totally get that you don't want to move twice, but it seems like the biggest unknown factor that will probably influence your medium- and long-term happiness about your living choice is your fiance's commute. Since you *specifically* mention that you don't have a lot of stuff, if I were in your shoes I'd get a short-term lease in a one-bedroom that's a convenient commute for you (maybe even right in Gallery Place, saving every possible minute of commuting time and cost) until you know where his job is. If he ends up working in PG County or Herndon or Gaithersburg... oy, I just hate to think where that might leave you guys.

Good luck, and welcome, and come to the DC MeFi meetup on April 21 if you can swing it!
posted by argonauta at 11:18 AM on April 11, 2013

I just moved to Mount Rainier, and I loooooove it. Short bus ride to Red and Green lines, super affordable (like, $2k a month for a roomy four-bedroom house affordable), walking distance to Glut food co-op, easy access to the really good PG county thrift stores (which admittedly may only be a perk for me). If you want super-solid prewar construction and a quiet, friendly neighborhood, it's ideal.
posted by nonasuch at 11:30 AM on April 11, 2013

Just a note regarding nonasuch's plug for Mt. Rainier: it's the MD side of the line from Brookland/Woodridge and thus has the plusses of Brookland PLUS congressional representation and in-state tuition. Of course you would need to ride a bus or bike to the metro, so theirs some trade off I suppose!
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 11:48 AM on April 11, 2013

Check NOMA or Eckington. My condo is less than .5 miles from the NY. Ave. train station, which is only 3 stops from Chinatown. You can find something for under $1,500 is you look hard enough. In fact, I plan to rent my small 2 bedroom out next year for that much.
posted by noisylibrarian at 11:52 AM on April 11, 2013

I would encourage you to stay in DC because if you are working late and want to take a cab home, I think it will be easier to get a cab to take you someplace in DC rather than someplace in MD. I've never lived in Maryland so I don't know for sure. Also, if you're going to work in DC, I'd encourage you to actually live in DC. If you hate it, I'll understand but why start in DC light when you can live in DC itself?

I used to live by the Mount Vernon Square Metro station. It was terrific because it was really convenient to Logan Circle, 14th St, I could walk to work, etc. If we hadn't found a better apartment in Ledroit Park, I would have wanted to stay there indefinitely.

I live in Shaw, specifically Ledroit Park, and I love it. It's adorable, a real neighborhood, there are restaurants, a park, farmers markets, etc. To that end, Bloomingdale isn't bad either. Eckington is a few blocks away and while I don't live there, I think I'd be okay moving there.

Columbia Heights is really convenient - there are lots of options for takeout and sit-down, there are tons of people around, there's Target. The thing you need to know with the Columbia Heights area is that there is an amount of crime that is, IMO as someone who has never lived there, kind of fixed. A good friend moved there about 18 years ago and left maybe 2-3 years ago. In the time that he was there, it changed - new restaurants! new stores! Target! - but the amount of crime didn't really move. There are entrenched gangs around there and they are not moving because someone put in a Target.

I've never been a victim of crime there and I don't know that any of my friends have (except for my aforementioned friend - people used a ladder to climb into an open window of his townhouse and steal his stuff). But it's the kind of thing where the only surprising element of crime there is when it's especially brazen, like when someone gets shot in the afternoon by the Metro. Everyone says the neighborhood is changing! everything is getting better! and maybe it does for a period of time but then something happens and all of that goes out the window.

I'd also be wary of living along the red line because seriously, every morning something happens on the red line. If it's a day that ends in -y, something happened on the red line. The green line is less drama but the reason there are issues on the red line is because, for better or for worse, those stops are very, very busy.
posted by kat518 at 11:53 AM on April 11, 2013

In contrast with what I said about Columbia Heights, the U Street has changed *dramatically.* It used to be pretty rough - there's some great history there - but it is a lot different from the way it was even just five years ago and it's still changing. Similarly, 14th St near Logan Circle used to be awful. The development is growing, connecting 14th St from M St to U St and from Columbia Heights to U St and from Dupont Circle to 14th Street but east of 14th Street between maybe L and T Streets is a sweet spot.
posted by kat518 at 12:02 PM on April 11, 2013

I think Woodley Park/Cleveland Park/Van Ness is probably the best bet for you guys: on the red line, safe, not too busy, but local amenities are available, decent chance of finding street parking nearby for your car. Plus: your fiancé can easily get downtown if he finds a downtown job or can easily drive to Maryland if he finds a job there.

Also, friends will be happy to visit you in those places, which will not be as true if you live in Brookland or PG County.

Also, look into the immediate area around downtown Silver Spring, eg The Blairs. Many of those buildings in the area have reasonable rents and free or reasonably-priced parking spots. Also, once again, easy access to downtown to you via the red line and easy access to Maryland-suburban jobs for your fiancé if that's where he ends up.
posted by deanc at 1:12 PM on April 11, 2013

Your snowflake details actually do the opposite of narrowing down the options for me and I'd say honestly, you'd do fine almost anywhere. Your work is very central (any Metro line will take you within three blocks of work), you do have plenty of money to work with (even paying down student loans)...the only thing I'd counsel is: anything in NW south of U St is going to be more expensive (smaller space, fewer amenities) with the trade-off being access to nightlife (which you don't need). For example, the commute from Petworth is literally 5 minutes longer than the one from U St and you can live a lot nicer for the same money. I live on U St and love it, but I don't have a dishwasher and I like going to bars.
posted by psoas at 1:23 PM on April 11, 2013

U St is expensive now and where will you park your car? I'd try what they call NoMa these days. Near the metro. You can find parking. Farther out H St NE near the nightlife you have a hard time finding parking and there's no metro.. I would not want to be working late and waiting on the X2 outside of rush hour at the end of the day, but then, a lot of people don't mind. On the other side of the red line, well, Cleveland Park and Van Ness are quiet, residential, have lots of apartment buildings, are near metros, are safe, parking shouldn't be as bad (but still kind of a pain in Cleveland Park near Connecticut).. it's also rather boring up there (Van Ness especially). This is assuming you'll need street parking instead of having a dedicated spot at your building, which is pretty typical. The comments on Red Line problems are accurate, though, and from the Van Ness direction you'd be catching the most crowded trains (aside from the Orange Line out of Virginia) during the morning rush and that is not the happiest way to start the day.

You could look at Navy Yard right near the ballpark (could be a great option for you - lots of beautiful new apartment buildings - and if your fiance went to UMD-College Park or even had to drive 295 to Baltimore, it's not insanely hard to get there) or SW Waterfront near the metros (Waterfront and/or L'Enfant Plaza). There's Fort Totten on both the Red/Green lines, one of the less expensive options, also residential, but I don't know that there are many modern new buildings right now. Also there's Mt. Vernon Square, Shaw, Columbia Heights and Petworth on the yellow/green lines.

There are a lot of options but in my experience as far as quality of life goes in this area, it's all about length/difficulty of daily commute and availability of parking since you have a car. I would totally advise your fiance to not take a job involving a hellish driving commute! Just don't do it, it's not worth it! Most places in the city on one of your three lines won't be a tremendously long commute but as for living, from like U St to downtown (Mt Vernon or Shaw might be okay) and Cleveland Park down the Red Line until it hits Union Station.. be prepared for NOWHERE TO PARK all the time.

For budgeting, $150/K a year doesn't go as far as you'd think if you're factoring in large student loan payments plus the high rents plus other expenses (car insurance goes up, commute costs, cost of living in general, lots of apartment buildings are going to charge you an extra fee per month for the cats). A modern 2BR near the metro is going to be realllly expensive if that's what you're set on. (On the other hand, a decent lowish-level admin job is going to pay more than $20-30K here, so that'd help.) And I hate to say this, but are you sure about adopting a dog? I just cannot think of where you are going to find a modern building that will allow two cats and a dog. Having both is likely to make your search very hard. I'm not trying to put you off, honest! DC is great, there's so much to do here and so many interesting people.
posted by citron at 4:49 PM on April 11, 2013

Agreeing with those who have said NoMa or Capitol Hill area.
The benefit of this area is that you really wouldn't need to move if your fiance went back to school. From Union Station it's fairly easy to get to Georgetown, UMD, or even Baltimore through public transportation although it is a bit of a commute.

This would also put you close to Chinatown.

There's currently only one Trader Joe's in DC, and it's located in Georgetown but one is set to open on U St. soon. Closer to the Capitol Hill area, there's a Yes Market by the eastern market metro. And of course there's also Eastern Market.
posted by donut_princess at 9:30 AM on April 12, 2013

Also, friends will be happy to visit you in those places, which will not be as true if you live in Brookland or PG County.

Would you care to explain that deanc?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:50 AM on April 12, 2013

Foggy Bottom is actually starting to look pretty good compared to when I looked a few years ago. Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, proximity to city center, Dupont and Georgetown. Cons: GW students, lack of green space, is there even any parking?

I don't really get "NoMA", but you have different criteria than I do and it sounds like a match. Cons: No street life, no greenery and proximity to crime + no eyeballs on the street to add safety. I feel like it's the worst of the suburbs combined with the worst of the city under an insufferably cute nickname. NoMA does meet your neat, modern building requirement.

Yards Park isn't very neighborhoody and has some proximity to crime, but there are nice buildings there and the park is pretty great.

Petworth has some new buildings, too. It's in the very early, beginning stages of gentrification and has the growing pains to show it. There will be a shiny, new Safeway there in a couple years, as they tore down the awful one. Yes Organic Market is there now.

Shiny buildings going up in Columbia Heights close to the metro, too.

If you liked Van Ness, you should consider Cleveland Park. There are some high quality buildings out there and it's neighborhoody with street life and things to do without growing pains.

Budget $1500 - $2000 at the low end for 1 BR or bigger these days. Depressing as heck, but my friend recently had trouble finding a studio for less than $1500. Keeping in mind that rent goes up every year about 3-5%, so you want to start lower than you can afford.

The gayborhood tucked between Dupont, Adam's Morgan and U Street has some well managed buildings. Brookland is also worth a swing because, unlike NoMA, it is more like the best of the suburbs plus proximity to the city. There are some nice buildings on 16th near Meridian Hill Park, but they're older.

Takoma Park doesn't have any high tech apartments, but it's definitely on my list of places that are quiet and neighborhoody.

You should keep in mind that the red line is the most maligned of all the metro lines. I really like that I live on 16th and I have convenient bus and metro access.

Staying in the city will make those cab rides bareable. Some cabbies will give you grief for a trip from city center to VA or MD. That being said, Bethesda, Clarendon, Crystal City and Old Town Alexandria seem like nice enough places to live and the farther out you are no the metro line, the more likely you are to have a seat.

There's a Trader Joe's planned for 14th. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/11/trader-joes-dc-u-14-street_n_1875042.html)

You might not want to rule out Capitol Hill or Eastern Market. There aren't modern buildings in those areas, but they are pretty nice and neighborhoody.

deanc: Also, friends will be happy to visit you in those places, which will not be as true if you live in Brookland or PG County. 10th Regiment: Would you care to explain that deanc?

PG County has a reputation and is sometimes used as shorthand for the areas where low income folks have been displaced to (But is a a big fricking county that encompasses Takoma Park, MD and rural areas)... But Brookland? The only way to lump all that together is if people are paying more attention to race maps than to crime maps. It's not crime-free and it can feel spooky due to the lower density and lack of street lighting, but compared to most of the neighborhoods that has been mentioned in this thread, Brookland is the freaking Garden of Eden.
posted by Skwirl at 12:16 PM on April 12, 2013

Takoma Park is in Montgomery County (former Takky Park resident here).

I had fewer friends come to visit when I lived in Takoma Park than when I lived in Mount Pleasant - I mean, if those friends lived in the city. They liked Takky Park just fine, but inertia being what it is, we were much more likely to meet in the city somewhere or at one of their places in the city.
posted by rtha at 12:20 PM on April 12, 2013

I guess Takoma Park is on the border and used to be PG but now it's Montgomery. So you've got the edge of old Takoma Park on one end and National Harbor on the other.
posted by Skwirl at 12:28 PM on April 12, 2013

Would you care to explain that deanc?

The OP's friends will likely live in DC proper or near the border of DC in MoCo of NoVa. It doesn't matter how nice or safe someplace like Brookland is-- it might as well be the middle of nowhere and friends aren't going to be motivated to come out and visit.

I didn't so much mean to lump Brookland together with PG County as if they were interchangeable, but since Brookland was suggested along with Mount Rainier, it was fair to warn to OP off of them. (the same would go for living in Gaithersburg or Wheaton, for that matter).
posted by deanc at 1:23 PM on April 12, 2013

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